Getting Medieval in Costa Brava, Spain
Leah Walker June 16, 2013

Leaving my splendid seaside home in Cadaqués was no easy task, and it wasn’t because of the one mountainous road out. I simply wanted to stay in the stunning Costa Brava town. Nonetheless, it was time to depart; Castelló d’Empúries was waiting.

Located near Empuriabrava and its beautiful marina, Castelló d’Empúries is a village dating back to the 9th century. Established as the capital of Empúries in the Middle Ages, this historical place has retained much of its original design, including the Jewish Quarter, squares, and perhaps most importantly, the Minor Basilica of Saint Maria of Castelló.

Basilica of Saint Maria of Castelló

Costa Brava Spain

Although the church was closed, a man from the community was kind enough to open it and show me around. His knowledge was vast and English excellent, certainly better than my Catalan.

Costa Brava Spain church bench

Construction began in the 13th century and wasn’t completed until the beginning of the 15th century. With its qualifying dimensions, Saint Maria has not been named a cathedral, much to the dismay of those from Empúries. The front of the basilica is framed by accordion-like arches with inset statues and imposing metal riveted doors.

Costa Brava Spain church carvings

The Gothic Mediterranean interior is full of stained glass windows, stone carvings, and painted frescoes. Its main alter is surrounded by an iron gate, but I was let in for a closer look. At first glance, the ornate alabaster alter reminded me of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia with its tall, narrow spindles.

Costa Brava Spain church

Within the basilica is a small museum containing various Catholic artifacts. From art depicting stories in the Bible to various gold and silver objects to robes worn by priests, I’m glad I took the time to walk through. There were some very special pieces.

Costa Brava Spain church museum art

Prison of Castelló d’Empúries

About a five-minute walk from the basilica along narrow alleys and cobblestone paths, is the Prison of Castelló d’Empúries. This Gothic building built around 1336 served both as the court {curia} and the prison. On my tour, I was led through several floors and multiple cells. With stone walls, metal bars, limited light, and dank conditions, it’s no wonder some of the prisoners were crazy. This place was no cushy country club prison, that’s for sure. Graffiti from those imprisoned between the 17th and 19th centuries can still be seen.

Costa Brava Spain prison

The prison tour ended in a room filled with relics from the medieval Jewish quarter. Here headstones from the ancient Jewish cemetery in Empúries can be seen. There’s also a huge model depicting what the town looked like in the 14th century, as well as a short film called, Between the Crown and the Sword, that explains the history of Empúries.

Costa Brava Spain prison cell

Castell de Rocaberti

Since I like to fashion myself as a princess {however delusional that might be}, my ears perk up when I hear the word castle, specifically when combined with the words, you’re staying in. Visions of soaring ceilings, ornate artwork, secret passages, damp dungeons, ghosts, and quite frankly, Downton Abbey, come to mind. Obviously I couldn’t wait to see my vision come to life in Costa Brava.

Castle Costa Brava Spain

I’ve stayed in exactly one castle before: a fancy-schmancy one in Ireland called Dromoland Castle. It dates back the 5th century and was once the Gaelic ancestral home of the direct descendants of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. Although it was totally awesome in regard to luxury and the aforementioned ceilings, artwork, and Downton Abbey-esque feeling, I found it a little white washed for my castle fantasy. Enter Castell de Rocaberti.

Castle Living Room Costa Brava Spain

In a tiny village somewhere between Girona, Figueres, the Costa Brava beaches, and France, lies Castell de Rocaberti. This 11th century medieval castle is monstrous–I’m talking HUGE! Seeing it for the first time, I thought it might have at least one secret passage and maybe a dungeon. With four floors, 15 bedrooms, and 13 bathrooms, two dining rooms, and two kitchens, how could it not?

Castle Bedroom Costa Brava

In the same family since the 14th century, everything about the castle is grand, and very well it should be; it’s welcomed kings, queens, and one travel writer from Texas. There’s something to be said about being in someone’s home as opposed to a hotel. I felt free to roam around as I pleased without getting any crazy looks. I went from room to room and floor to floor inspecting every square foot, but no dungeon or secret passage did I find.

Costa Brava Spain Sunset

Deciding on an en suite room on the main floor, I settled in for my two nights in Castell de Rocaberti. My room wasn’t the most grand with the fanciest furnishings in the castle; that’s not why I chose it. Instead, it was what I found outside the window. Behind the heavy drapes and shear curtains were the most gorgeous green rolling hills and a sunset that set the sky ablaze. Later that evening over a home-cooked paella dinner, the owner of the castle, Mariano Sanz, which room I’d chosen. When I told him, a smile came across Mariano’s face and he said, “That was my room when I lived in the house. It has the best view. Great choice.

So maybe Castell de Rocaberti didn’t have a medieval dungeon, and I never found any secret passage, but it did have a view that would make Downton Abbey envious. And it had paella. I mustn’t forget the paella.

I was an invited guest of Charming Villas Catalonia, however the opinions expressed here are truly my own. Charming Villas Catalonia specializes in the rental of high-quality homes and villas in Catalonia, Spain. They are located in Besalu, and as locals, they are able to share first-hand knowledge of Catalonia with their clients.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

26 Comments

  1. The more I read about your adventures in Costa Brava, the more I know I must make my way there! Looks stunning. I would have totally chosen the room with the view too! Looks great.

    1. I loved this trip, Anita. It helped that I had a local that planned everything out for me, but I think even on my own all would be great. I really want to go back and see the beaches this summer. It was always a tad cool when I’ve visited.

      1. A locally planned trip is the way to go….they know all the best stuff! Hope to make it there myself someday soon! Summer or even early fall would be awesome!

    1. That’s funny, Nicole, because I’ve been to Spain three times in less than a year and ONLY visited Costa Brava. I’ll show you my Spain if you’ll show me yours. Deal?

  2. I’ve been to Girona and Figueres, but never in this castle. I have to visit it next time. Nicely written article, I enjoyed reading it. The only thing is that I have no idea about Downtown Abby 🙂

    1. The castle and the little village it’s in is certainly something to see. I loved my time there and wish I could have stayed longer. By the way, Downton Abby is a very popular TV show on PBS that set in England.

  3. Leah, oh how I wish I could show you parts of Granada, Sevilla, and Madrid! That’d be a great trade for Costa Brava, and I’m enjoying greatly reading about seeing and experiencing Costa Brava through your eyes. I have to say: that black-and-white shot of you and Lola “down in the dumps” is absolute gold. 😉 Thanks for your post!

    1. I PROMISE I am going to explore more of Spain. I just have to! My friend, Nellie, lives in Granada and I adore seeing her photos. And don’t get me started on Madrid. I’ve coveted that place for years. You let me know when you’re going next. As for the prison shot of Lola and me, it wasn’t much of a stretch, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. 😉

  4. I love historic architecture. To me, a couple hundred years is old. Medieval times is ancient!

    1. Isn’t it wild being from North America how we think that. Going to Jordan and Rome really blew my mind. CRAZY!

    1. I’m kind of thinking we should return as a guest of the mayor. I’m sure he’d be happy to see us again.

  5. Gorgeous photos! I really must get to Costa Brava soon. I’m also obsessed with the photo of you and Lola, haha, classic. 🙂

    1. Next time you’re in Spain, I’ll see if the castle is available. You may have to be chambermaids, but I’m sure you’re both ok with that.

  6. Those pictures are so beautiful. I’ve never been to Spain, or Europe for that matter, but it is definitely on my list of places to visit. Thanks for sharing!

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